October 1, 2002



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The Election Interview/Mirwaiz Umar Farooq
JK Election

Part I:' I am sure we can control Lashkar and Jaish'

'Kashmir is a political problem, not a religious issue'

Associate Editor Chindu Sreedharan's interview with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, religious head of Kashmir's Muslims and All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader, continues.

Election 2002 A lot of emphasis has been laid on differentiating between terrorism and the 'freedom struggle.' Against that, how do you see the anti-poll violence that has erupted in Kashmir since the election was announced, especially the killing of political workers, including state Law Minister Mushtaq Lone?

The Hurriyat believes in a political struggle. And we don't approve the killing of a political activist [just because he is] associated with [a] different party. It's totally unjust to kill anyone because of his political ideology. We categorically deplore that.

But the problem is, in Kashmir there are so many agencies. You don't know who's for who. You have the militants on one hand and you have the renegade elements on the other. You have Kuka Parray's people, you have Javed Shah and his men, who are working on different levels.

And there are indications that all the political killings that happened in Kashmir cannot be interpreted as done by militants. There is an internal war among renegade elements, among different political parties. At times they do go to the extent to eliminate the opposition through violent means.

One last question about the election. On one hand you say the army forces people to vote. On the other, militants threaten people against voting. So if you dub the former unfair, isn't the latter unfair too?

Of course, it is unfair. But the problem is how do you check it. You have no means to check it.

Coming to your meeting with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, how did it come about? Was it planned before you left India?

No, no, it was not planned. It happened that I was here for the OIC, and Musharraf was leaving the very next day and I thought it was a great opportunity to meet him. So I made a request, and they said yes.

You led a three-member delegation. It was put together in New York?

Yes, in New York, yes.

You have always been known as a 'moderate.' But in the last few months, you have been more outspoken and have emerged as the face of the Hurriyat.

I firmly believe the time has come for the people of Kashmir to take the initiative in their own hands. It is a problem related to us, our suffering, our future, and we shouldn't accept dictations.

As conscious citizens of Kashmir, if we feel this is in the interest of people, we have to pursue the policy. No matter what the risks are.

The Kashmir problem is a political problem. People are trying to exploit it, at different levels -- even on the issue of religion. This is not a religious issue. And we should not let it be [one]. It is a matter of political dispensation. And that is where we have to be strong.

Was there any particular event, anything, that prompted your recent emergence to the forefront?

Yes, (Abdul Gani) Lonesaab's death. It was a great shock and great loss to the Hurriyat. He was a person to whom we all looked up to, an experienced campaigner, and I think the ideas he stood… he was totally for Kashmir… and I think we have to pursue that agenda. This unfortunate impression about Hurriyat has to go -- that we work on somebody's behest. We stand for the people. My prime interest is the benefit of my people. We have to stand up for it.

Some of your statements have surprised Kashmir watchers -- that one about 'jihadis (Islamic warriors) will have to fall in line,' especially. Have you thought about the threats you face with that approach?

What I had said was, if tomorrow we have a peace process and people sabotage it, we have to rise against them.

I am in public life. I am with a family whose involvement with Kashmiri public life dates back to 300 years. I have a certain duty towards the people. And I have to stand up for that duty, although it is very difficult.

Yes, I have thought about the threat. I have the will and the capacity -- I think so -- to stand up to it. I understand issues better today than I did five years back. It is now 13 years since I have been in politics; it is hard to believe that. You get exposed to a lot of issues, especially when you visit countries like the US and see how it works. And at times you have to take a stand on issues. And I would say that I am willing to go for it, yeah.

There is also a view you are being propped up by certain concerned parties as the new leader of the Hurriyat. What is your assessment of that?

Honestly, it doesn't make a difference, you know. People talk about it, but as long as I am clear in my mind about what I stand for and what are my objectives, it doesn't make any difference. If somebody says they are propping me up, well, well and good! But I should be firm in what I believe, in my objectives.

Is there any truth in that view?

I don't know. People talk about me as a moderate face. It is good, in a way. I mean, I would rather be called a moderate than a hawk. But being a moderate, you can stick to your principles. Many people think a moderate will compromise on his principles. I am certainly not willing to do that. I believe in what I do.

My identity is not because of the Hurriyat. I would say my identity is because of being the mirwaiz. That is what I cherish more. And it is with that identity that I think at the social level, at the religious level, I can do a lot.

When incidents like Lonesaab's killing happen, you tend to sort of take a step backwards. But then, this is a situation in which my father (Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, who was assassinated in May 1990) was very much involved. He gave his life for the people. And I think I owe it to him.

And people look towards you -- whosoever I have talked to, including people who have not been traditionally our supporters in Kashmir. When they come and see you, you are happy to see that they do realise, yes, you can contribute. If I can contribute a bit, I will be more than happy to do that.

The Hurriyat is said to be a divided party.

Honestly, I don't think there are any real differences as such. Yeah, you are a political forum, so there are bound to be differences. But I really don't think there are any differences worth the mention.

There was a lot of talk about hardline (Syed Shah) Geelani and softline Lone… That's not it, you know. We are trying to work as a unit. The people of Kashmir wants to see us work as a unit. They don't want to see us divided.

What will be your approach to Ram Jethmalani's Kashmir Committee?

We are really interested. I think the people in the committee are really sincere. And they are influential people. They have their own standing. So through that committee, I think it will be an opportunity to reach out to the Indian masses, to the intelligentsia in India.

After the elections, we will meet them in New Delhi. We will continue to lay stress on the peace process. Let's hope the Government of India doesn't play spoiler.

The next step would be for the Kashmir Committee to go to Pakistan. Or maybe they can support the idea of the Hurriyat going to Pakistan.

You have been calling for flexibility on the respective stand India and Pakistan have taken. But considering that both governments' survival is linked in a way to Kashmir, do you think a compromise on their respective stands is practical?

I am sure we can reach a solution that is acceptable to all the parties concerned, where all the ego problems will be addressed -- and where the people of Kashmir can also say, yes, something worthwhile has come up.

I don't see anyone apart from Musharraf and Vajpayee who has got the statesmanship and charisma and the strength to do this. Musharraf is a very strong person in Pakistan right now. Vajpayee owns his own personality, commands respect. I think these are the people who can do something. If they can't, then for a long time I don't see anybody else

'Terrorism will have to be killed by all of us together:' Lieutenant General V G Patankar
'National Conference is a bottleneck for peace:' Mufti Mohammad Sayeed
'People realise their vote can make a difference:' Governor Girish Chandra Saxena.
''There is a wave in favour of statehood for Jammu:' Jammu State Morcha chairman Sreekumar
'This was the seventh attempt on my life:' Srinagar Times Editor Ghulam Mohammed Sofi
'The BJP is going to have a very difficult time:' National Conference president Omar Abdullah
'Pakistan's sole objective is to disrupt the J&K polls:' Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani
'After 50 years we are stuck at the same place:' Mirwaiz Omar Farooq
'Kashmir is linked to the very survival of South Asia:' Hurriyat Chairman Abdul Gani Bhat
'Our agenda is to finish militancy:' Union Minister Chaman Lal Gupta

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